Formal debate over the future control of Charlotte's airport begins in earnest Wednesday at a 1 p.m. hearing of the State Senate Finance Committee. Senator Bob Rucho of Matthews co-chairs that committee and is sponsoring the measure. Speaking on WFAE's Charlotte Talks Tuesday, Rucho argued a separate "airport authority" is the best way to keep Charlotte officials from drawing down airport coffers to pay for city services.
To support his argument, Rucho cites comments by Mayor Anthony Foxx. But there's a problem. Foxx never said the comments Rucho cites.
The city owns and runs the airport, but it's a stand-alone operation. Which means, no city tax dollars go into the airport and no airport revenues come out for other city projects. And yet, that's exactly what Senator Bob Rucho believes Charlotte leaders are looking to do. As evidence, he points to a recent speech by Mayor Anthony Foxx.
"The mayor in his State of the City made a comment – subsequently retracted quickly – said that it is important that that (airport) revenue stream help the paying for police, fire and transit," said Rucho on Charlotte Talks. "And if that's the direction we're going, that is not the direction of trying to keep a low-cost airport in place that will allow us to keep the hub."
In fact, the mayor retracted nothing. His spokesman says Rucho misinterpreted the speech and Foxx told Rucho so the very next day. Here's what Foxx actually said in the speech.
"In the back rooms of Raleigh, according to rumor and innuendo and a few news articles, there appears to be a serious conversation about removing city control over Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, eliminating revenues we count on to pay for police and fire fighters, and even cutting off transit funds," said Foxx. "That’s wrong."
Foxx was talking about three separate efforts underway in Raleigh – not listing off a variety of things the city pays for with airport money.
The city hasn't used airport money for police, fire or transit and if they were making secret plans to do it, Republican Councilman Andy Dulin says he'd definitely oppose it. Instead, Dulin's become the city's lead negotiator with Republican lawmakers in Raleigh who are trying to strip the airport from Charlotte's control.
"I don't believe, nor have I heard, nor do I have a suspicion, that the underlying motive is to divert airport money for a streetcar, which I am adamantly opposed to," said Dulin, Tuesday morning on WFAE's Charlotte Talks.
Dulin, Mayor Foxx and the rest of the Charlotte city council say they've helped make the airport a success and are urging lawmakers to slow their push for an independent airport authority.
Rucho's measure is on a fast-track for senate approval.